I don’t know why, in light of everything else that’s already come to light—we clearly did worse than making horrific but (I presume) idle threats—but this bit of the recent interrogation report filled me with a profound sense of sadness and shame:
CIA interrogators threatened to kill the children of one detainee at the height of the Bush administration’s war on terror and implied that another’s mother would be sexually assaulted, newly declassified documents revealed Monday as the government launched a criminal investigation into the spy agency’s “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane” practices [….] In one instance, suspect Abd al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded and handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened Nashiri’s mother and family, implying that they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.
I suppose that’s the great anti-patriotic sin according to conservatives—feeling shame about something America’s done. I’ve never really understood why. If it were, I don’t know, Australia that had done it, or if I didn’t expect any better of the United States, I might feel disgust, but not shame. If patriotism means that you identify with a country, believe in its ideals, and have some kind of standard of honor for the conduct of its representatives that flows from those ideals, then doesn’t it pretty much require you to feel shame in a case like this? In any event, that’s what I feel.
I guess what especially turns my stomach here is that the idea wasn’t just to inflict mental anguish on a presumably odious man in order to extract information. It was to inflict that pain by exploiting, as a weakness, whatever flicker of nobility or love remained in an otherwise wretched soul. It was a method of torture that would have been effective only because and to the extent there was something human left in him. Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but every cell in my body is telling me this is sick and wrong.
Addendum: The full report is, of course, worth reading—here’s the AP summary if you don’t have a few hours to spare. This image lodged in my head, but that hardly means it’s the worst thing in there. For instance:
Perhaps the most serious case involved an Afghan citizen, who had been implicated in rocket attacks on U.S. military bases. Once captured, in June of 2003, the suspect was held at a military base. “During the four days the individual was detained, an Agency independent contractor, who was a paramilitary officer, is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions.” The detainee died in custody. The contractor, who had not been trained or authorized to conduct interrogations, received a relatively light punishment. He did not have his contract renewed by the CIA.
Addendum II: Actually, the more I think about it, it’s hard for me to imagine that the physical suffering is any worse than holding a sincere belief that a group of soldiers are going to rape and murder your family.